How to safely stockpile your prescription medications

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How to safely stockpile your prescription medications

Can you stockpile prescription drugs?

You can learn how to safely stockpile your prescription medications when you understand drug classification, schedules and the insurance system. It is possible to build a legitimate stockpiles of prescription medications for emergencies with a little planning.

Is it illegal to stockpile prescription drugs?

Prescriptions medications for controlled substances fall under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This act separates all federally regulated substances into categories that are called schedules. States have the right to further restrict the use of medications.

Five Schedules Used for Controlled Substance Medications

According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), there are five schedules for drug classification. These are determined by the acceptable medical use of the drug and the potential for the drug to be abused or cause dependency. Brief rundown of the five schedules include:

  • Schedule I defines drugs not accepted for medical use, such as heroin. Marijuana (cannabis) is included in Schedule I, but some states have passed laws that approve it for medicinal use.
  • Schedule II defines drugs that have a high potential for abuse and dependency and are designated as dangerous.
  • Schedule III defines drugs with moderate to low potential for abuse and dependency.
  • Schedule IV defines drugs with low potential for abuse and dependency.
  • Schedule V defines drugs with a lower potential for abuse and dependency than Schedule IV.

Why the Schedule Matters to Your Stockpile

The schedule your medication is under will determine how often your prescription can be refilled within a specific time frame. The U.S. DOJ and DEA notes that, "A prescription for a controlled substance may only be issued by a physician, dentist, podiatrist, veterinarian, mid-level practitioner, or other registered practitioner."

Some Prescription Medications Are Considered Non-Controlled

GoodRx says the prescriptions for various infections or chronic conditions are non-controlled medications. A few examples include medications for diabetes, asthma, blood pressure, cholesterol, and antibiotics.

woman reading medication

How do you store prescription drugs long term?

There are several things you can do to safely stockpile your prescription medications, especially when planning your survival supplies.

Can you get 90 day prescriptions?

  • Talk with your doctor about your wish to have a backup supply for emergencies. You may be able to get a 90-day prescription depending on which Schedule the drug is in.

  • You should keep your medicines organized in their appropriate bottles, so you readily know what they are and their proper dosage.

  • When you manage to stockpile your medications, you need to continually rotate your supply to ensure they haven't expired.

  • Mylar bags

How to Build-Up Your Prescription Medications

If your goal is to have a month of medications in reserve, you'll need to plan your refill dates. Some people aim for a six-week supply. The key to achieving these goals is to refill your prescriptions before it's time to refill them.

Prescriptions in Lower Classifications

This tactic only works for prescriptions that are in lower classifications defined by the five Schedules. You can find which schedule your medication is in by referring to the US Department of Justice (US DOJ) listing of all substances and their assigned Schedule number.

Early Refill of Prescriptions

Some people opt to refill their prescription a few days early each month. Typically, the earliest you can do this is seven days in advance of your current amount running out. In theory this practice means you can accumulate a one week's supply every month. The goal with this tactic is to have six weeks of medication stockpiled at the end of six months. Keep in mind that most medications have a set number of refills available within a specific timeframe.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

The early refill tactic seems like a good idea, but you should keep in mind that the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) tracks all refills. This electronic system is designed to alert the pharmacist of potential drug abuse. If you're regularly refilling your prescriptions a week before they're due, this system will alert your pharmacist as an indication of potential stockpiling. Again, it's best to discuss your desire to build-up an emergency reserve with your doctor and pharmacist.

How to Use Stockpiled Prescription Medications

If you manage to stockpile your medications, you need to make sure you don't allow them to expire before you use them. This will ensure your stockpile is always current. You need to rotate your prescriptions using a first in, first out method in the same way you would rotate food in an emergency pantry. This means you use the oldest ones first.

Request a 90-Day Prescription From Doctor

If you're working with insurance for your prescription medications, then you are limited by how often your insurance company allows refills. Some medications can be filled for 90-day supplies. Check with your doctor to see which of your medications can be prescribed for a 90-day supply. Of course, your co-pay expense will be three times more than what it is normally, since you're paying for a three-month-supply instead of just one month.

Request 30-Day Vacation Prescriptions

Some insurance companies will approve what is known as a vacation prescription or vacation override. This gives you a 30-day supply of your maintenance prescriptions. You should check with your insurance company to fully understand when you can request refills. Some insurance companies won't approve early prescription refills or more accurately pre-fills.

Bypassing Insurance Companies

If your insurance company won't approve an advance supply of your medications for emergency use, you may need to pay for your prescriptions without the insurance co-pay. This may be one way to have a small stockpile of medications for an emergency. You can discuss this strategy with your doctor and/or pharmacist.

Never Ration Your Prescription Medications

Some people attempt to stockpile their medications by skipping a day or two. This can be a very dangerous practice. The dosage of your medicine isn't happenchance, but a well-calculated dosage based on your physical condition. Skipping one or more dosages can possibly threaten your health. It's best to discuss with your doctor and try to find a solution for an emergency supply. The most you may be able to get is one week, but this would be a good buffer for an emergency.

pouring prescription medication into hand

Get Doctor-Approved Alternatives to a Stockpile

If you can't stockpile your prescriptions, you should consider alternative treatments that may be just as effective or at the least bridge the gap during an emergency until you once more have access to your regular medications.

Consult an Alternative Health Care Professional

You may want to make an appointment with a naturopath, herbalist or other alternative medical professional. Be upfront with them why you are seeking their help. Have a list of all your medications and see if they can offer you alternatives, such as herbal treatments and other alternative medicines that don't require prescriptions. Don't attempt to self-medicate since you don't know which prescription medications may interact with alternative ones.

Recommendations for Stockpile Alternatives

There are some herbs that may be of help, such as blood thinners, lowering blood pressure, reducing swelling, and joint pain, and even some that can help migraines. If you decide to stockpile these, make sure you discuss these with your doctor and don't take them with your current medications before checking with your doctor and/or pharmacist. Keep these as your backup. Make sure you rotate these out and don't keep ones that have expired to ensure you always have fresh ones on hand.

Finding Ways to Safely Stockpile Some Prescription Medications

There are legitimate ways you can stockpile some of your prescription medications. You can try a few of them and possibly stockpile a week or more of your medications to have on hand for an emergency.

How long after a medication expires is it still good?

It is always best to keep a stock of fresh medications. However, it may be important to understand the actual shelf life in the event you need to make a decision to use older medications during a crisis.

Cynthia Koelker, MD, author of Armageddon Medicine, wrote an outstanding reference article for the Journal of Civil Defense entitled, Expired Medications: What You Need to Know. She quotes The Medical Letter, Vol. 44, Issue 1142, October 28, 2002 which states “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90% of their potency for at least 5 years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer.”

We should expect a gradual loss in potency over time. If the appearance and color of the pills have not changed the medication is likely safe to consume. Storage temperature and packaging will significantly affect the actual shelf life. Liquid preparations are not as stable as tablets and capsules and generally have a shorter, useable shelf-life.

Prepper Home Pharmacy: The Best Medications to Stockpile

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A well-stocked prepper home pharmacy ensures that you will not need to run out to the store to purchase a medication when you are feeling under the weather or when it may not be safe to venture out. Consult your medical provider to determine exactly what medications you should keep in your prepper medicine cabinet.

What are the best medications to include in a well-stocked prepper home pharmacy? The best drugs to stock in your prepper medicine cabinet include a combination of over-the-counter and prescription meds. You should include pain relievers, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, antiemetics, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and allergy medications. Be sure to include any prescription drugs that you are taking.

How Much Medication Should I Store for Emergencies?

When it comes to storing medications for emergencies it is impossible to come up with a “one-size-fits-all” answer to determine the right amount to store. Consider your worst case scenario and calculate the number of meds required to adequately take care of your needs, then stock a little extra to share.

While many medications are still good after the expiration date on the bottle, fresh is ideal. Therefore it is wise to only purchase drugs in reasonable quantities. Overstocking will likely result in waste and may not be the best use of your money.

We personally re-stock our supplies every couple of years and dispose of the old medication to ensure that we always have a fresh supply. We stock our little prepper pharmacy at a “worst-case-scenario-rate” and are very grateful they have not been needed.

It is reasonable to stock enough over-the-counter medications to last a year or two. Prescription medications are much more difficult to obtain and you may be lucky to have one or two months as a backup supply.

Plan for the Unique Needs of Family Members

Before stocking your prepper medicine cabinet, sit down and carefully evaluate the unique needs of each member of your family. Consider the following questions.

  • Does anyone in your family have allergies to any medications?
  • Do you need to store infant or child formulations of drugs?
  • Does anyone have special needs due to a chronic medical condition?
  • Does anyone suffer from seasonal allergies?
  • Does anyone have an issue with pain management?

Stock appropriately for the individuals who will be using the medications. Remember your supply is for your everyday needs, not just for an emergency.

Ideal Storage Conditions for Medication

Generally, medication will store best in a cool, dry, dark location in the original unopened packaging. The bathroom medicine cabinet is not the best place to store your meds due to the heat and humidity. Store all medication out of reach of children.

Drug addiction is a real concern in our society. Some addicts are easy to identify but others you may never suspect. Consider storing prescription medication in a locked safe or well-hidden location to protect both the drug seeker as well as your critical medications.

Actual Shelf-Life of Medication

It is always best to keep a stock of fresh medications. However, it may be important to understand the actual shelf life in the event you need to make a decision to use older medications during a crisis.

Cynthia Koelker, MD, author of Armageddon Medicine, wrote an outstanding reference article for the Journal of Civil Defense entitled, Expired Medications: What You Need to Know. She quotes The Medical Letter, Vol. 44, Issue 1142, October 28, 2002 which states “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90% of their potency for at least 5 years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer.”

We should expect a gradual loss in potency over time. If the appearance and color of the pills have not changed the medication is likely safe to consume. Storage temperature and packaging will significantly affect the actual shelf life. Liquid preparations are not as stable as tablets and capsules and generally have a shorter, useable shelf-life.

Best Over-the-Counter Medications to Stockpile

It is easy and relatively inexpensive to stock your prepper medicine cabinet with useful over-the-counter medications. Carefully consider the needs of your family members and include the meds that you regularly use. This is the list of medications that we keep in our stash. Yours may be a bit different.

Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)

Ibuprofen is effective in treating both pain and inflammation. It is commonly used to relieve headaches, earaches, sore throats, sinus pain, muscle strains, menstrual cramps, arthritis pain, and back pain. It is an effective fever reducer.

Ibuprofen used in combination with acetaminophen (Tylenol), it is highly effective in relieving severe pain. Our son recently had his wisdom teeth removed and opted to control the pain with ibuprofen and acetaminophen at the recommendation of the dentist to avoid taking an addictive narcotic. It worked surprisingly well.

Ibuprofen in bottles

Naproxen (Aleve)

Naproxen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It is effective in relieving pain, fever, and inflammation, similar to ibuprofen, but can last 12 hours. We stock naproxen because some of our family members prefer it.

Naproxen in a bottle

Aspirin (Bayer, Ecotrin)

Aspirin is used to reduce fever, control pain and to reduce swelling and inflammation. It is used also used as a blood thinner in low doses to prevent heart attacks, stroke, and blood clots. Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 who have a fever due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Bayer aspirin bottle

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Acetaminophen is the only OTC pain-reliever that is not an anti-inflammatory drug. It will not irritate the stomach like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. It is effective for both pain relief and fever reduction. We stock acetaminophen for family members that can’t take ibuprofen.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

Diphenhydramine is an inexpensive antihistamine. It is commonly used to relieve symptoms from respiratory infections, hay fever, and allergies. It is also helpful for treating hives, itching, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.

Loperamide (Imodium)

Loperamide is used to control diarrhea and relieve intestinal cramping. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration which makes this medication a good choice to keep in stock.

Polyethylene Glycol 3350 (MiraLAX)

Polyethylene Glycol 3350 is an osmotic laxative and is used as a stool softener and for relief of constipation. The stress and dietary changes resulting from a disaster often result in stomach and bowels issues.

Glycerin Suppositories

Glycerin suppositories can provide relief for constipation within minutes. It is a good back up to have in the event that the polyethylene does not work.

Miralax and Glycerin Suppositories

Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)

Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that is effective at temporarily relieving congestion of upper and lower respiratory tract. It is helpful for relieving symptoms associated with the common cold, flu, hay fever, allergies, and bronchitis.

This is an over-the-counter medication but you can only get products containing pseudoephedrine at the pharmacy. Quantities are strictly limited and you must present a photo ID. It is an ingredient used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. You will need to stock up on this medication over time.

Fexofenadine Hydrochloride (Allegra)

Fexofenadine is an antihistamine and is commonly used to relieve allergy symptoms. It is often taken in combination with pseudoephedrine for increased relief of allergy symptoms.

Meclizine (Bonine, Dramamine)

Meclizine is an antiemetic drug. It relieves nausea, vomiting, motion sickness, and vertigo-like dizziness. It is helpful for anxiety and insomnia in some people.

Famotidine (Pepcid)

In late 2019, Zantac (ranitidine) was found to have a contaminant at levels slightly higher than naturally found in foods. It is NDMA, a nitrosamine compound that has been associated with some cancers. All Zantac was pulled from shelves. Click here for the FDA announcement.

The risk is probably very low but medical professionals are using Pepcid (famotidine) in place of the Zantac (ranitidine). It can be used for the treatment of heartburn, ulcers, reflux and may help relieve hives.

Hydrocortisone Cream 1%

Hydrocortisone cream comes in handy for treating inflamed and/or itchy rashes such as eczema, poison ivy, diaper rash, and minor genital irritations.

1% Hydrocortisone Cream

Bacitracin Ointment (Baciguent)

Bacitracin ointment is a first aid antibiotic ointment used to treat abrasions, lacerations, insect bites, or stings. It will not treat fungus or virus infections. It can be used to treat superficial bacterial skin infections such as a mildly infected wound or impetigo.

Clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin)

Clotrimazole is a topical antifungal medication. It may be used to treat fungal and yeast infections such as female yeast infections, athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, diaper rash, and skinfold irritations.

How to Stockpile Prescription Medications

It is possible that your supply of prescription medications may be interrupted when disaster strikes. If you are taking medications due to a chronic medical condition, it would be wise to plan in advance to take care of your needs.

The best option is to take the necessary steps to improve your health with the ultimate goal of reducing your dependence on prescription medications. In the meantime, build a supply with enough medication to see you through a crisis.

Methods for Stocking Up

Work with your medical provider and build a backup supply of critical prescription medications. Explain to him or her the reason you are concerned and see what options may be open to you. Be honest and always follow his or her recommendations. Make sure that you keep your supply rotated.

Medical providers will not give you any type of controlled substances (drugs that cause mental or physical dependence) for “emergency preparedness.” Don’t even bother asking. In this post, we are talking about medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.

Doctors are frequently given free samples of medications from the drug companies. If he or she provides you with a few samples, make sure that you keep filling your prescription on schedule. You can easily get a backup supply of 30-60 days this way.

Insurance companies will usually refill your prescription every 25 days. If you faithfully pick up your new prescription at 25 days, by the end of the year you will have a 60-day back up supply of your critical medications. If you use a mail-order pharmacy you may be able to get a 90 day supply of your medication. Be sure to refill it as early as allowable.

You can also ask your health care provider to give you a prescription for an extra month or two that you pay for in cash. This is one way you may be able to get around the limits enforced by your health insurance.

Stockpiling Antibiotics for Disaster Preparedness

The decision to store antibiotics should be carefully thought through. Antibiotics can only be legally used under the direction of a health care provider licensed to dispense the drug. They will not do anything to help a viral infection, but they can save lives.

We strongly encourage you not to use antibiotics except under the direction of a qualified health care provider. The antibiotics you stockpile are only for use when competent medical care is not available and you do not have other safe options available to you.

An illness must be accurately diagnosed and the correct antibiotic given in order for it to help the condition. Antibiotics have side effects which need to be carefully weighed before taking. The safest source for obtaining antibiotics is from your health care provider.

Prepper Antibiotics List

Cynthia Koelker, MD wrote an article for the Journal of Civil Defense entitled Seven Antibiotics to Stockpile and Why. In this article, she lists her top 3 antibiotics to store for a crisis where medical care is unavailable. The best antibiotics to store for emergency preparedness are Cephalexin, Ciprofloxacin, and Metronidazole. These 3 antibiotics will cover 90% of the common bacterial infections.

Cephalexin (Keflex)

Cephalexin treats most of the same bacteria that amoxicillin does, but it is stronger against Staph aureus. It is commonly used to treat upper respiratory infections, skin infections, ear infections, and urinary tract infections.

Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)

Ciprofloxacin is used for bacterial infections. It may be prescribed to treat anthrax, typhoid fever, abdominal infections, urinary tract infections, prostate infections, bone infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis.

Metronidazole (Flagyl)

Metronidazole treats very specific infections and is used to treat parasitic infections like Giardia in the small intestine, amebic dysentery, and amebic liver abscesses. It will also treat infections of the stomach, liver, skin, brain, respiratory tract, and vagina.

Cynthia J. Koelker, MD blogs at Armageddon Medicine and states that using these three alone or in combination would cover around 90% of the infections physicians commonly encounter, as well as several less-likely threats (including anthrax and C. diff).

Specialty Drugs for Specific Risks

Depending on what your specific risk factors, you may have unique events that you are preparing for which require specialty drugs.

Potassium Iodide (KI)

Potassium iodide tablets are taken during a nuclear event to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. This is a must-have for preppers who are preparing to survive a nuclear event. It has a long shelf life and should remain stable for many years if stored in a cool, dry, dark location in the original container.

Learn more about potassium iodide at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oseltamvir (Tamiflu)

Oseltamvir is an anti-viral medication and requires a prescription. It is used to treat or prevent influenza. You may want to consider purchasing osetlamvir if you are prepping for a pandemic.

Zanamivir (Relenza)

Zanamivir is an anti-viral powder. It is inhaled orally. Zanamivir is used to both treat or prevent the flu and requires a prescription to purchase.

Consult your healthcare provider to assess the benefits, costs, and risks of stocking these anti-viral medications. They may or may not be right for you.

What Antibiotics Should I Stockpile?

Now you have some basic information to help you get started building your everyday stockpile of important medications.

  • Go through all of the medications that you currently have and dispose of outdated drugs.
  • Create a detailed list of all of the medications that your family may need and reasonable amounts for each. Be sure to include special formulations for babies and elderly members.
  • Consult your health care provider to discuss any special needs of family members. Explore the possibility of obtaining additional prescription medications for chronic conditions or stocking antibiotics for emergencies.
  • Decide where to store your medications. You may keep opened bottles in a medicine cabinet, or with first aid supplies, and the backup supplies in a cool, dry, dark, secure location.
  • Purchase a fresh supply of over-the-counter medications at your local pharmacy or online here.

A well-stocked medicine cabinet can come in handy and prevent last-minute trips to the store when you are not feeling well. When disaster strikes and supplies are limited, your stash of medications can be a lifesaver.


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